Skip to main content

Two Parades

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches on Sunday, 6/5.

How many of us enjoy going to a parade? Did you go the Memorial Day parade? Doesn't being at a parade make us feel like children again?
Today's gospel describes a meeting of two parades—one of life (Jesus, and the crowd of followers) and a parade of death—(the dead man, his mother and the grieving crowd). Just what happens when these two parades meet?

The parade of life  was on the move from Capernaum to the small town of Nain. Before they made their way into the town, they could hear the commotion before seeing the parade of grievers. Middle Eastern people do not mourn as we do. Their mourning is loud and passionate and may well be healthier than the way we try to be strong and not let our emotions get the best of us.

One would think that in the parade of mourners, which is a funeral procession, the focus would be on the loved one who died. Of course, our Lord Jesus is never conventional and can be counted upon to do the unusual and unexpected. Rather than focusing on the man who died, Jesus' focus is primarily on his mother, a widow.

In Jesus' time, being a widow meant that the woman was now socially alone and without protection. Besides that, she has lost her sole means of support financially. Without a husband and now without any son to support her, she would become destitute. As crass as this may sound to our 21st century ears, people's children were their retirement. A son was a mother's lifelong protector and her ultimate social security. Jesus' restoration of this widow's son may have meant the difference between survival and destitution.

What has transpired reveals the reign of God in which Jesus, transforms mortal existence into new life. Jesus raises the widow's son from the dead. That is one miracle, but there's much more.

Jesus paid the most attention to the widow, who was now an outsider. Jesus had compassion for her and told her not to weep. The Greek word for cry means loud wailing or lamenting typical of first century Jewish mourning. The woman was beside herself.

When I was in seminary, one of the first things we learned in pastoral care is that you never tell someone who is crying, "Don't cry. Is Jesus being insensitive? Didn't he know how important it is to be a non-anxious presence when someone is mourning? Jesus could say "Don't cry" because he knew what was going to happen next.

After talking to the widow, Jesus touched the bier, which was a stretcher or wooden plank to transport the corpse to the place of burial. The act of touching it made Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, that did not diminish his compassion and that didn't stop him from healing the man.

The translation we are using says, "Jesus gave [the man] to his mother," but a better translation is that Jesus "gave back" the son. This underscores her restoration and return to a place of protection. The renewal of her future became a time of opportunity instead of misfortune.

How did the crowd respond to the miracle? Their first response was that of fear. I'm not sure about you, but my first reaction to this is that the gospel writers paint a much calmer picture than what may have actually occurred. I don't think when people see someone who is dead, sitting up and starting to talk, they simply stand there and say, "Oh wow." I think there could have been a bunch of people running for their lives. Perhaps in all the commotion, those who remained, were fearful and filled with wonder.

They glorified God and said that Jesus was a great prophet and that "God has looked favorably on his people" (v. 16). That sounds nice, doesn't it? A different way this could be translated is that God is "present" with his people, "with the implication of concern-of being able to help, to be on hand and to aid." Jesus' healing actions point to God's restoration of his people. The hope of resurrection is not grounded in the fact that the widow's son came back to life, but in the fact that the One who had compassion to bring back the woman's son has himself triumphed over death.

Other healing stories in this gospel attribute healing to the person's faith.There's nothing about faith in today's story. Maybe this story is all about grace--pure, unadulterated, unearned, un-asked-for grace. The healing does not happen because of a mother's faith or her son's worthiness. It happens because of Jesus' compassion.

When grace comes into our lives, it requires nothing of us but a choice--to receive it or not. As Christians, we are called to be God's presence and conduit of God's grace in our world. Sometimes that means that we will be with people of light and at other times, people will be in very dark, scary places and we are called to be God's light to them. It may be that we bring hope to the family of someone who died, help a sick person or are a non-anxious presence amidst the commotion,  and at other times, we are the light battling the forces of evil through the power of God's Holy Spirit. 

The question for us to ask ourselves when we are faced with the difficulties of life, is how are we going to react to those situations? Do we trust in God or do we try to go it alone? With Jesus, you never know when a funeral parade just might turn into a street celebration.

May God give us the wisdom and strength to choose wisely.



Popular posts from this blog

Come To The Light To Become The Light

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, Jan. 6, Epiphany at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel text is Matthew 2:1-12
Now, this is a story we know. We’ve seen the scene of the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus so many times in so many pageants. Epiphany is a time when we celebrate the in-breaking of God’s light in God’s way. The Magi are drawn from the east to come and pay homage to the Christ child. There are many theories as to who the magi were: from Zoroastrian priests to astrologers to magicians to kings, while some believe that the Magi were simply a literary device utilized by Matthew. They may have been any or all of the above, but the point is that they were foreigners and gentile outsiders and yet, God spoke to them through a star, through the light and they followed that light. 
Unusual astral phenomena were associated with the birth of a new ruler according to pagans of the time. There were Jewish traditions as well connecting the hoped-for Messiah to the “star out of…

Go Big or Go Home

This is the homily I shared with the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church for Ash Wednesday. The gospel text was Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The first time I heard the expression, “Go big or go home,” was my senior year of seminary. A dear friend mentioned how during a children’s sermon at her internship site, when she was talking with the kids about how God wants all of us, this young man explained it as “Go big or go home!” It really struck all of us who heard my classmate relate this story.

Today’s gospel lesson is like two bookends with a bunch of information between them. The first verse is the first bookend. Then Jesus talks specifically about different faith practices and how they should and should not be practiced. Finally, the second bookend surround the words in between with the final verse regarding the treasure of our hearts.
Before Jesus gets into the nuts and bolts of various aspects of piety, in the first verse he spells out the gist of the entire teaching, “Beware of practici…

Centered in the Spirit

This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 12/27/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel was Luke 4:14-21.
In the time after Epiphany, we see more revelations of Jesus in the gospel. Today’s is Jesus’ controversial proclamations in his home town. We see the centrality of the life of the Spirit in Jesus’ life of ministry.

The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus after his baptism (3:22), then fills Jesus before he was sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and in this passage of Luke the Spirit fills Jesus with power.
The role of the Holy Spirit is central in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’ first public words were “The Spirit of the Lord.” The first three phrases in Jesus’ reading tie his ministry to the work of the Spirit: “The Spirit…is upon me…because [the Spirit] has anointed me…[The Spirit] has sent me.” In Jesus’ repetition of “me,” we hear his claiming of Isaiah’s words for himself.
Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. Anointed is the English word that means the same as…